I used to be a big believer in the death penalty. And I still believe that there are some really bad people out there who don’t deserve to live among us. So in defending yourself, and your loved ones against a murderer who would take your lives, well if he takes his last breath in that attempt that’s just too bad for him.
As for the government using the judicial system to put someone to death, I don’t agree with that anymore. First, you can’t “undo” the death penalty, if you later find out that the guy you just fried in the electric chair didn’t actually do the crime. If the accused is convicted and gets a long prison sentence, you can let him out later if you discover he is actually not guilty, and at least try to make amends for the error by paying him and his family an extremely large amount of money; it will never make up for the lengthy incarceration, but at least his later years will not be in poverty.
Juries make mistakes. Prosecuting attorneys and defense counsels have various degrees of competence and make mistakes too. Judges’ rulings often later get overturned. Even the vaunted US Supreme Court frequently has 5-4 decisions – meaning that 44.44% of the justices had the “wrong” legal opinion from the majority. If 44.44% of our juries convicted the wrong guy and sentenced him to death, we would stop the death penalty immediately.
Secondly, law-abiding citizens, whether in the jury, or prison guards, or the few actually involved in the execution process, often suffer terrible mental duress for the remainder of their lives – even concerning executions where there is never any doubt as to the accused’s guilt. Yes, there are some who will “sleep like a baby” but others won’t. And that’s not an opinion; I was fortunate enough to be able to review 96 death penalty cases in the US Army in Europe in World War II, when writing The Fifth Field, and numerous military police involved in the executions had terrible emotional issues later – with at least one tough MP sergeant, Richard Mosley, later committing suicide.
But most troubling, charging someone with a capital crime – a capital crime is one for which you could possibly receive the death penalty – is often a matter of prosecutorial discretion. The prosecutor can put the death penalty into the realm of possible punishments, or he can “take it off the table.” That is a difficult decision for any prosecutor, and some are simply not up to it. Most alarmingly, we are seeing that more and more prosecutors are using factors of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and even political affiliation in their decisions of whom to charge – or not to charge. That is bad enough concerning crimes that carry potential incarceration. But using those factors in such a way for a prosecutor to put his or her thumb on the scales of justice concerning the death penalty is unconscionable.
Do you really think that the current State’s Attorney Office for Cook County, Illinois, doesn’t often have their entire hand on the scales of justice – let alone thumb? Even the Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association ripped into Kim Foxx’s decisions in the Jussie Smollett case.
Do you really think that politics didn’t play a role in determining who should be charged concerning the 2014 disturbances/riots/unrest/uprising in Ferguson, Missouri? Even the US Department of Justice couldn’t get to the bottom of it, ruling on one hand that Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in self-defense, while also determining that the Ferguson Police Department had engaged in misconduct against the citizenry of Ferguson by, among other things, discriminating against African Americans and applying racial stereotypes in a “pattern or practice of unlawful conduct.”
Do you really think that politics and political affiliation are currently not playing a factor concerning the participants in the January 6, 2021 incident at the US Capitol? Congress has talked about treason – a crime that could carry the death penalty. And according to Time Magazine, some 17 months after the event, 840 people had been arrested. But only 25% had received criminal sentences, while 75% were still awaiting trials or had not finalized plea agreements. Only 80 of those arrested had been sentenced to terms of incarceration! The median prison sentence of those 80, as of June 2022, was – get this – 45 days. An additional 57 were sentenced to periods of home detention. That doesn’t sound like death penalty material to me.
However, if some politicians and states attorneys have their say, EVERYONE in the Capitol that day would be strung up on nearby light posts. No one should have that much power. We need to do away with the death penalty – before people get executed for their political beliefs.